#ENDSARS and the Need for a Police Union
By AJ Dagga Tolar
The immediate cause of the #EndSARS protest was the fact that the police was increasingly perceived has having ceased from its legitimate function of combating criminality to an institution housing criminals in uniforms, carrying out rape, illegal arrests, prejudicial and unprovoked killings of innocent citizens, and extortion of citizens through as many guise possible. This is why the police is labeled as the enemy, and explains the unsympathetic support for even the idea and slogan of the police union among a majority of the youths protesting, even among some so call activists and pseudo-socialists, who support all the other demands of the protest, are rationalizing why the police do not need a police union, unconsciously aware that they are siding with the ruling elites on this account.
But this thinking of formal logic that posits that the police is an arm of the state, and that the #EndSARS protest which was peaceful all through and was abruptly ended by the military by the use of force, shooting and killing peaceful protesters makes it impossible to support or canvass for a union for the rank and file of the police and the armed forces, since it will mean that we are applauding them or empowering them to deal more with the working masses. This formal logic continues by saying that the wellbeing of those who inflict pain on the working masses should not be the concern of the working masses.
The MSA disagrees completely with these categories of “Change seekers” and “Friends of the People”, WHO DEEM IT SCANDALOUS, TO THINK that police are not humans, they are not wage earners, and must not be so treated and they must have nothing with democratic rights, they are slaves of the ruling elites and as such should be left to their fate.
The point must however be made that in changing the present state of the police to enable it function more effectively, and relate humanely with the working masses in the dispatch of its duties, or even transform it to be an organ in service of the working masses are not goals that can be achieved outside the necessity of a struggle for improvement in the working conditions of the rank and file of the police, in itself demands their involvement in the process, this in the long run takes us to legitimately recognizes the right of the police, and in indeed of the armed forces to a union.
The fact that under the capitalist structured state that the police in the long functions to defend the right of the ruling elites, and members of the billionaire club to private property ownership and their loots. This does not in any sense now disqualifies it as work and by so doing deny those bear arms for the state the right to a union. The right of all categories of workers to take actions to demand for improved working conditions and commensurable adequate wages that will in turn guarantee them access to the basic necessities of life is a fundamental right, so is the right to form associations to canvass those aims.
The police rank and file have demonstrated with numerous example their willingness to take action to defend to demand for their denied legitimate wages, and with particular reference to the #EndSARS protest, during, before and after in defense of their safety went on a self imposed unvisible presence in public as the #EndSARS protest grew and by 0ctober 20, 2020 completely gone on an undeclared strike action, refusing all orders from the police command to resume work as police stations were attacked and police officers targeted by thugs and hoodlums, who having been nursing one grudge or the other against the police, a consequence of the killing that had taken placed at Lekki Tollgate, which saw peaceful protesters abruptly leave the street as soldiers shoot sporadically and mauled down innocent citizens. This gave room for hoodlums to cease the initiative and rampaging, and arson became the order of the day. The point here is that the police had gone on an undeclared strike in protection of their safety. Should this right to work without any danger to life not be defended, and legally protected?
Immediately after the #EndSARS protest had ended, police officers in Ondo organized a protest, demanding for the payment of their allowance in the 2020 Ondo Governorship election. In the same breath on the 2, July 2018, police rank and file numbering up to 10, 000 hit the streets of Maiduguri demanding to be paid their allowances for job already done, shooting sporadically into the air, wearing mask and drawing the attention of the public to their neglect.
Same in Kaduna in October 2017, 2000 police officers carried out a protest demanding the payment of their unpaid August and September salaries, report had it then, that police in “Imo, Ogun, Kaduna, Kebbi Gombe, Nasarawa, Ekiti and Bayelsa”. Instead of the government and the police command to see to this legitimate demands, it engages in self denial of the action of the police, or even go to the ridiculous of extent of declaring it as “mutiny” and threatening brimstones and fire. What all of the above demonstrates is that the employer or the management cadre cannot be relied upon to defend the welfare of lower rank workers, and that workers themselves must take up their course by themselves, and this can only be done with legitimate amendment to the police act that should allow for a police union.
Yet the idea of a police union is not new, alien or foreign to Nigeria, in 2002 a body known as the National Union of Policemen (NUP) had circulated leaflets urging the police rank and file to go on a strike action on the March 11, following an earlier that was called for Feb. 1 and was successfully adhered to by the police rank and file in as many as 26 states of the federation. The NUP in a statement circulated then had stated that the police rank and file “are the poorest of the poor. They are made to buy their own uniforms, buy stationery at police stations while the economic living conditions in the police barracks are worse than that of pigs… Nigerian policemen and women are the most maltreated and dehumanized of all the police institutions in the world, while the top ranking of the police hierarchy remains the most corrupt”. If anything this action and threat to strike forced the Obasanjo regime to make fund available to pay outstanding allowances. It also forced the regime to sack the then IGP Musiliu Smith, demonstrating again that it will require a consistent action of the employee to force the employer to effect the necessary action in favour of the employers’ needs.
The above quote taken from a statement signed by Sunday Emeka, who was subsequently sacked alongside 152 0thers by the Obasanjo regime for leading the police on strike and giving air to the necessity of a police union, even the regime acquiescenced to the correctness of these demands is even truer in 2021 than when it was written in 2002 then has the working conditions have worst off, with the differential between the wages of a new recruit in the police and the Inspector General of Police as high as 7,500%. That police stations in Nigeria are still on a paltry monthly running cost of N5, 000 in 2021 says how much the federal government is the one directly encouraging the corruption through its neglect forcing the rank and file to seek illegal means to make up their income and running cost, with the government and police command turning a blind eye to this act of illegality, which places the working masses at the receiving end of this act of brutality at the working masses.
To therefore continue to think that the rank and file of the police not need a union of their like the ruling elites and the police command to insist is to give room for the very situation that birth the #EndSARS protest to continue to exist. We must however bear in mind that the police command are well catered for, and they are the ones who benefit from the current police system, which leaves no room for the rank and file to legitimately challenge or bring up their thinking in relation to their work, raise questions on finance and accountability and how the resources of the police are managed, both in relation to their wages, allowances, special assignments, nepotism and favouritism in the police, the safety of their lives, pension, what their fate will await their families if killed during the course of performing their work, it is clear that the police command and the government cannot be relied upon to naturally do this.
This explains why every such action by the police to carry out or protest has been labeled as “mutiny”. We must reject this, and call for the immediate repeal or amendment of the police act to make room for the police to have a union, up to the need to go on strike for improved working conditions, which in turn creates the room police officers to reject orders and command that violates basic fundamental human rights, without being labeled as engaging in subordination or mutiny, and the union can easily raise up to their defense without any threat of sack from their jobs.
It is in this regard that the MSA calls on the trade unions, the NLC, TUC and all other labour and socialist organizations to be in the forefront of a Campaign of a Police Union. The then NLC under leadership of Adams Oshiomole had cued into the idea and written a letter to the IGP canvassing for a trade union for the police, but the response then was that it was and illegal act, against the laws of the law and oath of allegiance adhered to in joining the police and as such cannot go on strike. We want to herein state a police union will not be given out as a platter of gold, and that it must be struggled for and won by police rank and file themselves. They must draw inspiration from the attempt in 2002, and as well as from the #EndSARS protest, seeking the support of youths, the trade unions and the entire working class. Indeed the idea of community policing which is cheapishly now in vogue and is being canvassed, can have no meaning if the police rank and file are denied the right to a union, and be allowed to effectively elect their leadership that can so represent them and allow for police who will be the one working in the communities to have a legitimate means to state their concerns and all their needs, including trainings, and the necessary equipment and facilities that would not mean that the police will resort to the use of maximum violence against the working masses, if issues emanates in the community.
In as much that the right wing shift or dominance of bureaucrats in the trade unions has not in any sense see society calling for a scrapping trade unions, nor can the right wing character of the leadership of the police unions in countries where they exists be used as a counter weight against the necessity of a police unions in Nigeria and other place they currently do not exist. The experience of the struggle for a police union can impact on sharpening the class contradictions, draw sympathy